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Jonathan Walker's Brexit column from yesterday's Journal


'Parlimentary debacle continues..'

As I write this, Parliament has just confirmed its plans to hold ‘indicative votes’ on alternatives to the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

As you read it, we may have a new direction for the Brexit negotiations. Or we may not.

And so the Parliamentary Brexit debacle continues. Every time Westminster (or occasionally Brussels) whips itself into a frenzy I’m asked what this means for North East businesses.

My answer is almost always the same. If you’re a business trying to plan for the future the day before the latest kerfuffle, you’ll typically find yourself surrounded by the same fog of confusion 24 hours later.

To find ourselves in this position in the week of the original departure date is ludicrous.

Yet here we are. I’m not going to make predictions about what happens next. People far cleverer than me have come unstuck trying to do that.

Instead of dealing with the unknowns, I want to talk about the knowns. We know that Brexit uncertainty is affecting business confidence, especially among internationally trading businesses.

We know that Brexit is a huge factor in many businesses’ investment decisions.

I’m writing this column on the train to London, on my way to present our latest economic assessment to Government economists, equipped with case studies of firms who have delayed, amended or cancelled investment plans due to economic uncertainty.

We also know that the Brexit negotiations have adversely affected perceptions of Britain and its international standing. A quick review of the foreign papers the morning after each political upset will tell you that.

For a region that prides itself on its international connections, this is particularly concerning for the North East. Now, I don’t want to be too melodramatic, ultimately our international reputation is built on the quality of our goods, people and service and I have no doubt this will continue to be a competitive advantage in the future.

But if any good is to come out of the shambolic nature of the Brexit negotiations, I’d hope it is this. Governments in the future need to be humble and realistic about our place in the world.

Our businesses operate in globally connected markets. Even those whose customers exist entirely in the UK can be buffeted by economic turmoil which seems far removed from what they do.

A truly ‘Global Britain’ will only come about if far more weight is given to the views of those who know what it takes to do business overseas, and far less given to political games.